Advice on Richard Maguire's "Little John" Workbench design?

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Forum topic by andre_p posted 03-16-2016 10:42 PM 945 views 3 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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9 posts in 230 days

03-16-2016 10:42 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench

I’ve recently become enamored with Richard Maguire’s (aka The English Woodworker) Little John Workbench and am seeking advice on building something similar. I think it makes great use of space and would fit well in my small city shop.

A link to Richard's blog post about the bench.

Some photos of the bench, from the blog post.

Unfortunately Richard didn’t share much about he built it, thus this post seeking advice. A few things I’m curious about (given the paucity of info I know a lot of this will be guesswork)

- What are the potential major difficulties in building a project like this?
- What sort of joints should I use?
- What purpose do the bolts on the left and right side of the top serve?
- Is the workbench top laminated?
- What sort of wood was used to build the pictured version?
- Are there any changes that I could/should make to make the build simpler?

Finally, how do people feel about copying someone else’s design for personal use? My feeling is that it’s okay since I’m not selling it, and will likely make some changes to it as I build, but I’d like to hear others’ thoughts. I did contact Richard offering to buy plans if they were available, but didn’t hear back.

4 replies so far

View David Taylor's profile

David Taylor

326 posts in 508 days

#1 posted 03-17-2016 03:04 AM

There are plans for a very similar bench in the Hayward How To book linked here –

There’s also Roy Underhill’s version in which he uses sliding dovetails to make the leg to bench joints, viewable here – (Part 1) and here (Part 2)

- What are the potential major difficulties in building a project like this?

Losing patience, time, blood, sweat, tears and money :) Honestly, there are really no major difficulties, just work methodically, one part at a time, and do your best.

- What sort of joints should I use?

For the leg to top? Hayward shows a flat top leg with aprons for stability. Underhill uses the aforementioned sliding dovetail and angled mortise and tenon. You could also use bolts, there is no set rule. For the legs to stretchers, again, you have choices. Note that Maguire uses bolts, probably augmented by short tenons in mortises. Hayward also suggests bolts, or wedged tenons. Benchcrafted sells some nice bolts for use in bench building.

- What purpose do the bolts on the left and right side of the top serve?

They bolt the end caps to the top. If you look closely, you’ll also see what looks to be about a half inch by half inch tenon that presumably runs the width of the top, this, like a breadboard end, should help keep the top flat.

- Is the workbench top laminated?

It looks like it. Helen states in the blog post that the top is 68mm thick, or 2 5/8 roughly. From that, just looking at the photos, it looks like there are three boards that thick and 3-4 inches wide glued together to make up the top.

- What sort of wood was used to build the pictured version?

That’s a tough one It looks like it could be any of English Oak, White Ash, Beech or something else entirely.

Unless you are trying to match it exactly, I wouldn’t worry about it. Use whatever is available in your area. All the sources listed above, though, advise using something stout and hard. That could be anything from Southern Yellow Pine through Hard Maple, and many others. Again, use what is cheap and available in your area that meets the criteria of stout and hard.

- Are there any changes that I could/should make to make the build simpler?

I think you’ll find that this is really not as complicated build, just don’t over think it. It’s about a 1×5 foot top with two foot long boards bolted to the ends, with another five foot board attached to the back ends of those to make the tool tray frame, and a board screwed or glued or nailed or any combination of these to its bottom to make a tool tray. Rabbet the top so you can put in covers like Richard has to make a wider flat surface. Knock together your legs and stretchers, attach the top to them the best way you know how, and you have a bench. You could, of course, make it really complicated, with Houndstooth dovetails in the end caps and contrasting wood and whatnot, but you don’t need to. Just make it strong.

Just tuck in and start building, you can do this! And, we’re here to help along the way, if you get stuck, just post here. As you found on your slab workbench post, we’re a helpful bunch :)

-- Learn Relentlessly

View andre_p's profile


9 posts in 230 days

#2 posted 03-18-2016 02:16 AM

David – thanks you so much for both the comprehensive response and encouragement! I’ve reviewed the two sources you mentioned and both were helpful; I feel a lot more comfortable tackling the project now.

At this point I think my only outstanding question is choice of wood. Out here in California Douglas Fir seems to be the choice given it’s availability, but I’m not a huge fan of its appearance (and I’m kind of picky on that front). Right now I’m experimenting with what HD calls “Kiln Dried Whitewood”, but I may end up splurging on some hardwood.

Thanks again, and I’ll likely be back for more advice as the project progresses :)

View bearkatwood's profile


1172 posts in 432 days

#3 posted 03-18-2016 03:14 AM

He has a series that shows you how to make his english bench that is Nicholson-ish
The English Workbench
Also here is a bench that I found on sketchup that is close.
Hope that helps.

-- Brian Noel

View WirelessWoodworker's profile


54 posts in 677 days

#4 posted 03-18-2016 02:16 PM

Hey Andre,

You could always ask him questions directly along the way too. Seems like a great guy and passionate about workbenches, so I wouldn’t hesitate to send him a message! He probably has lots of little tidbits he could share relatively quickly with you.


-- Tim, Delaware,

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